The Struggling Student Rants—Baby Steps

Many people, at the beginning of each year, set a resolution to get out of debt.  They resolve to sort out their finances in the new year and to control their wallet, and they may do great the first 2-3 days.  They track their spending, maybe even go so far as to make a budget, but, for many, by the end of January, life happens and the budget gets set aside.  Then, come December 31st, they get mad at themselves for not sticking to their plan.  Once again, they vow to start over again January 1st—right after they buy that gadget they’ve been eyeballing for the past six months on Boxing Day.

The truth is that many people want to achieve financial freedom, but only a few make it happen.  And no, I’m not only talking about the Warren Buffets and Elon Musks of the world but regular John & Jane Doe families.  Why is there such a large group of people who want to achieve debt freedom, but only such a small group who succeed?  They are obviously doing something different, but what is it?  Some people argue that those who succeed at this are just lucky.  But, what I realized is that there is one thing, more than anything else, that separates the doers from the dreamers, and this does not relate just to financial freedom, but to all goals people set for themselves.

It is something that AU students know and practice daily.  We practice this when we sacrifice time with our families or some much-needed rest.  And we apply this quality as we sit down and plug away at each painful homework task, knowing that the result will be worth it.  What separates the doers is that they are consumed with their goals.  They are consumed by their want of being financially free; of having options.  And when people are consumed, everything they do revolves around that one goal.  Day in and day out.  They eat, sleep, and breathe financial independence.  All the little actions they perform to reach their goal, turn into baby steps.  Those baby steps, after a while, turn into strides.  Soon, it becomes a habit.  They won’t be motivated all the time.  Motivation is fickle.  But what results from all this is consistency—consistency with time, consistency with activities, and consistency with mindset.  Consistency is such a huge factor for achieving, among many other things, financial freedom.  You want rock-hard abs for summer?  You have to be consistent with your chicken & broccoli and your 100 reps of sit-ups per day.  You want a 4.00 GPA?  You have to be consistent with active studying and forget procrastination.  You want to be a famous rock-star?  Sorry, I can’t help you there.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that no one is perfect, and we all make mistakes.  But it’s true that it’s never too late to undo those mistakes.  However, even if you realize those mistakes and set up the ultimate plan to turn things around, if you don’t maintain consistency, you will still fail.  Without relentless consistency, something might happen that throws you off track, and it will be a problem when you try to get back on track.

Financial advisors always teach about having a budget, and they say that for a reason!  A budget is a foundation towards forming consistent habits and regaining control.  A budget helps people stay consistent in their financial journey.  Creating and sticking to a budget doesn’t have to do with being in debt or debt free, or even being wealthy!  There are people who are debt free (including their mortgage) but still live on a budget.  Large corporations depend on budgets and projections to successfully run their operations.  They would be lost without one.

No matter what your current financial situation, the key to obtaining and maintaining financial freedom is staying consistent to the budget.  It’s never too late to start, and it’s never too late start over, either.  If you started a budget three months ago and you’ve fallen off, get back up and start again!  If you paid off some debt but then you had to charge something to a credit card, it’s time to start over and start again!  The point is that you can’t give up.  This is a journey.  Financial freedom is not going to happen overnight.

Now, I know being consistent can also mean boring.  It’s not “Eye of the Tiger” 24/7.  Sometimes it’s just “Working 9 to 5” (Google Dolly Parton.  You’ll be singing this all week).  But the point is, each step we make in the right direction is one step closer to our freedom, whether that step is intentional or just out of habit.  And each step is crucial to reaching our goal.  Just like each chapter in our reading list and each assignment in our courses leads us one step closer to our degree, so does each dollar saved, lead us one step closer to freedom.  Yes, that $1.00 makes the difference!

I repeatedly tell myself that people don’t get knee-deep into these messes overnight, so financial freedom isn’t achieved overnight, either.  But we can achieve it, eventually, if we stay consistent.  It really doesn’t matter if we started and then stopped because the only time that people fail is if they fail to get back up.  It is steady, unwavering, small, consistent baby steps that lead you to the prize.

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